Bejar, my home town, was an industrial centre in the past located in the west of Spain, with a thriving textile industry pre-dating even the Industrial Revolution.
Since ancient times, the town was characterized by its dedication to wool production, an activity which flourished after the arrival of the Flemish Masters in the late seventeenth century (1691). The Flemish Masters were experts in textile production and they were brought by the Duke of Bejar to drive the development of the industries here. Thus, the great development and improvement of the textile industry, which characterized the economy in Bejar during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, is explained.
Industrial development favoured and consolidated Bejar’s middle class, which during the nineteenth century controlled Bejar’s policy, once the Duke of Bejar’s privileges disappeared.
In the first half of the twentieth century, the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War benefited Bejar’s industry, since Bejar stood at the “national area” in opposition to “republican” Catalonia. The military victory established a strong connection between the new regime and Bejar’s middle class. Then its industry obtained the supply of clothing for the army.
|Old factories, the old railway and the river|
The 1970s meant the beginning of the end of the clothing industry. The decline of the clothing industry in Bejar was the result of the excessive dependence on the state contracts, poor location, the loss of the railway, poor communications..., (many factors have been analysed in order to explain the decline, but not even experts agree), which made it very difficult to compete in the globalized world. Around 1849 there were 200 factories employing 4,000 people; in 1969 there were 58 clothing companies and 38 craft workshops with about 3,500 workers. Nowadays there are about 14 companies in Bejar employing about 300 workers.
As a result of the industrial decline, the town has lost population progressively since the 70’s, when Bejar was close to reaching 18,000 inhabitants. The situation is progressively getting worse and worse and according to 2011 official statistic figures, the population is less than 15,000 inhabitants, 14,511 (INE).
In short, economic depression, loss of population, unemployment, low wages, lack of opportunities for young people, brain drain, lack of entertainment..., Bejar has become a sad, tired and dirty old town.
There is a popular British folk song entitled “Dirty Old Town”. I don’t know why but this song always evokes me Bejar, even before I could understand the lyrics, probably due to its title. I knew this song through the version by The Pogues, an Irish band, but I found with surprise that this is not the original one.
“Dirty Old Town” was written By Ewan MacColl, British folk singer and social activist, in 1949 but was made popular by The Dubliners, amazing Irish folk band, and has been covered by many others since, especially Irish bands. Thus, there is a common misconception that the song is Irish and was written about Dublin. However, the song was written about Salford, MacColl’s hometown, so the song actually originates from northern England.
The song is about a love and hate relationship with the town. Dirty and old, in fact, denote disgust and repulsion. Nevertheless, the town is the setting for the romance which is taking place in it, too. The song also evokes sounds, images and places related with industry, like factories, canals, sirens, trains, smoky wind... However, the last verse is reserved for some kind of act of rebellion towards the city, envisaging its destruction. In the last part of the verse, there is a change from an authorial “I” to “we”. It is not clear if this plural subject refers to the couple or to the collective of citizens or workers, who will chop down a “you” – I’ll chop you down like an old dead tree- that might be the town itself or one of its architectonical features (chopping down like a tree might refer to the tall chimneys of the factories).
Recognizing that cases are not exactly alike, Bejar has become a grim town like the Dirty Old Town described by the song. Nowadays in Bejar most of the factories are closed, destroyed or have become shopping centres or blocks of flats. Many places remind of the industrial past like chimneys, canals, the train track, train station..., but all these places are abandoned, the sirens don’t sound, there are no trains, no smoky wind..., and there is no future.
Listen to the version by The Dubliners, live. Click here.
The photos for this entry has been taken from the blog by Mª del Carmen Cascón.
This is a fantastic entry, Fernando, it's obvious you've worked hard. Congratulations!
Ok, guys, what are you waiting for? Start leaving your comments on it.